First off, the official definition of a changeling is a child believed to have been exchanged by fairies for the parent’s real child. There is nothing fairy-like about this movie. Secondly, I’m aware the late twenties and early thirties were enamored by makeup, especially if you lived in California, but the brilliant scarlet-red of Christine Collins’ lipstick (Angelina Jolie) as she works in the telephone company is not only off-putting but frankly garish. If this film had a sponsor it might have been Evening in Paris perfume.
I was not a fan of Eastwood’s last convoluted thriller, the often praised but sorely lacking "Mystic River" (released in 2003) being one of a number of reviewers who, as the plot unfolded, kept saying to themselves, "Wait just a minute here!"
Most of "Changeling" takes place in the Los Angeles of 1928 and seven years beyond. At the film's beginning, Christine Collins comes back to her bungalow from her job at the phone company to discover that her son Walter is missing.
It all ends on the night of the 1935 Academy Awards when Christine makes a bet that Caludette Colbert will win for "It Happened One Night." Along the way we follow the Herculean efforts that Christine makes in trying to find her son, especially when she’s up against the LAPD, cited as one of the most corrupt agencies in Christendom.
Initially upon calling the police they offer little help until five months later they locate her son in DeKalb, Illinois. Upon greeting her lost child is seems every newspaper reporter in LA has been called to the train station for mother reuniting with her son.
The problem? It isn’t her son but an imposter, a kid that somewhat resembles Walter, but differs in his size, height, interests, and deportment, not to mention being uncircumcised and his teeth don’t match dental record for Walter.
"This isn’t my son," says Christine but the chief of police shakes his head and tells her: "You're in shock, and he's lost weight. Why don't you take him home on a trial basis?"
Completely alone, Christine is befriended by a The Rev. Gustav Briegleb (John Malkovich), a radio minister who cries out against the corruption of the LAPD, and one of Malkovich’s best roles in a long time. With his help she begins to find some resolution the special horrors of this kidnapping.
In many respects it’s a frightening real-life story. But while being realistically photographed--you could believe you’ve gone back to 1928 in a time machine--the pace is so slow you wait for a metronome to start clicking faster, but it never does--at least not until the movie’s half over.
Eastwood has never been more plodding in any movie he’s directed and Ms Jolie clearly overacts to beat the band. Believe it or not, she should start watching Joan Crawford or Bette Davis movies to learn just how far you can go, before the audience begins to question.
I did give it three stars for the production values, and the more frightening parts of Christine’s story, but wish Eastwood had trimmed a lot of verbiage from a plodding script.